Republican Marco Rubio holds a solid 13-point lead over Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent in the race for Florida's U.S. Senate seat, with Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek a distant third at 18 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday.
With a 46-33 edge over Crist, Rubio, a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives and a favorite of the tea party movement, is benefiting from strong voter anger at the federal government, likely voters tell the independent Quinnipiac University survey, conducted by live interviewers.
"It is no coincidence that Rubio is getting 46 percent of the vote and 48 percent of the electorate is angry at Washington," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
Added Brown: "Almost half of Florida's likely voters are angry at the federal government, and Rubio gets 68 percent of these angry voters. Moreover, with only 3 percent of voters undecided, Rubio just needs to hold onto what he's got, while Crist and Meek, especially, have their work cut out for them if they want to pass the leader."
The poll surveyed 1,151 likely Florida voters, on September 23-28. The margin of error: 2.9 percentage points.
At the start of the three-way Senate race, Democratic elections strategist Steve Schale suggested that Crist could not win enough Democrats and Republicans to win the race. But Schale based his analysis then on Crist winning more than the 45 percent of independent voters Quinnipiac showed supporting him Thursday.
"The basic math to win for Crist: win roughly 1/3 of the partisan vote and 50 percent of the NPA," Schale wrote in a widely circulated blog in August. "Quite frankly, if he doesn't get 50 percent [of independent voters], the whole conversation is purely academic."
However, Schale wrote that Meek would eventually garner a larger share of the Democrat vote than the 43 percent Quinnipiac showed him winning.
On Wednesday, Schale told the News Service of Florida that the Quinnipiac numbers bolstered his argument that the numbers did not add up for Crist.
"I'm not going to deny that Rubio is in the driver's seat, but what I try to tell Democrats is as long as they continue to believe that Crist can win, which the Quinnipiac poll shows he can't, a vote for Crist is a vote for Rubio," he said. "It's time to realize that getting behind Meek — I know it's not an easy case to make — is still more viable than thinking Crist can win."
Schale, who ran President Barack Obama's campaign in Florida, added that Meek drawing 18 percent in the poll a month from Election Day doesn't mean he can't make up ground in the race.
"Where was Barack Obama in Iowa six weeks out?" he said. "The reality for Kendrick is, if he gets 80-85 percent of the Democratic vote, it's a very different race."
Quinnipiac showed Meek garnering 43 percent of Democrats, basically splitting them with Crist.
Two other polls within the past week show Rubio with an equally large lead over Crist and Meek.
According to the CNN-Time-Opinion Research Corp. poll released Wednesday, 42 percent of likely voters in Florida support Rubio, while just 31 percent backed Crist. Meek had 23 percent; just 3 percent were undecided.
Said CNN polling director Keating Holland in a statement: "Crist had a lead among independents at the start of the month, but Rubio now appears to have the edge among this key group.
"And with Meek holding a majority of the vote among Democrats, that narrows Crist's options heading into the final turn."
On Saturday, a Mason-Dixon Research & Associates poll of 625 likely voters showed 40 percent supported Rubio, while Crist had just 28 percent. Meek's tally: 23 percent.
Said Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker: "Crist is bleeding Democrats to Meek and independents to both Meek and Rubio."
News Service of Florida reporter Keith Laing contributed to this report.